Russia Updates Naval Doctrine to Focus on the United States – On July 31, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an executive order to approve a new naval doctrine for Russia, one which puts into writing trends of competition with the U.S., which Russia has increasingly leaned into over the previous decade. By declaring the United States Russia’s principal rival on the “world ocean,” the Kremlin’s new naval doctrine envisions a future of confrontation between the American and Russian navies.
Naval Doctrine Signed on Navy Day
President Putin in St. Petersburg officially approved Russia’s new naval doctrine ahead of Navy Day celebrations which he presided over on July 31. After his inspection of the assembled naval flotilla which participated in the occasion, Putin delivered a brief speech where he announced that the Tsirkon hypersonic anti-ship missile system would be deployed to the fleet for the first time within a month. The Russian President’s speech also commemorated the 350th anniversary of Peter the Great’s birth, which Putin described as being instrumental in asserting Russia’s status as a naval power with global influence, a goal which Russia’s naval doctrine aims for as well.
The United States as the Russian Navy’s Many Focus
One of the most significant elements of the 55-page doctrine signed by President Putin on July 31 was the designation of the United States as the main challenge for Russian interests and national security on the high seas.
In superseding the preceding 2015 naval doctrine, the 2022 edition signed by Putin on Sunday builds on the global focus of its predecessor which identified oceans as far afield as the Indian and Pacific oceans from the European Russian metropole as being of interest to Russia.
The new doctrine paid particular attention to what the document referred to as the United States and its allies’ attempts to exert control over the world ocean and the world itself, thereby applying “political, economic, military, and informational” pressure on Russia.
Moscow also asserted that the role of force in the relationships between world powers had not decreased and aired a laundry list of “challenges” presented by supposed U.S. attempts to dominate the world ocean, including the eastward expansion of NATO, utilizing its naval dominance to influence world developments and to challenge Russian territorial and maritime claims. This significant challenge to the U.S. Navy’s high priority attached to freedom of navigation operations which are intended to challenge what the Defense Department considers to be excessive maritime claims.
Moscow’s 2022 naval doctrine names a mix of regions close to Russia’s shores and areas further afield as zones of particular interest. These include “adjacent oceans and seas” such as the Azov and Black Seas, important routes of approach to Russian territory in the Baltic and Black Seas, as well as those near the disputed Kuril Islands between Russia and Japan. The eastern Mediterranean was also placed in this category, which has been a persistent area of interest for the Russian state for centuries. Sea lanes of “transport communications” off the coast of Asia or as far afield as Africa were also listed as areas of particular importance, signaling the global attention of the Russian navy.
The Russian Navy Cares about the Arctic
Russia’s Arctic ambitions featured particularly heavily and warranted independent policy positions of their own within the document. As a region, the Arctic has continued to receive significant attention from the Kremlin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which has otherwise occupied much of the Kremlin’s bandwidth. The strategic value and necessity of developing the Northern Sea Route received significant attention in the document, a priority to which Moscow has already attached steep targets in relation to increasing annual tonnage carried along the route.
Russia’s insistence that the Arctic shall serve as a resource base for the Russian economy featured as a significant priority of Russia’s naval doctrine as well, which gave the doctrine’s designation of the region as a particular zone of interest a strong economic bent. In order to accomplish this, the document places significant emphasis on supporting and defending Russian continental shelf claims in the Arctic Ocean. In 2021, Russia updated its Arctic Ocean claims to include the Gakkel and Lomonosov ridges as well as the Canadian Basin with new submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which had rejected a similar claim in 2001. Such claims overlap significantly with those of Canada and Denmark. In effect, the Arctic provisions of Russia’s latest naval doctrine amount to a doubling down of Russia’s policy in the region, which was defined by a policy white paper of its own in March 2020.
The Russian Navy’s Shipbuilding Goals
Ambitious prescriptions Russia’s 2022 naval doctrine were not simply limited to its assignment of territorial priorities – the document also contains surprising and ultimately questionably-feasible objectives in shipbuilding. The doctrine specifically named the development of Russia’s shipbuilding industry in Russia’s Far East as a significant goal, as underlined by Russian state media. While Moscow has proposed similarly grandiose plans for the Far East in the past, it has not succeeded in building the region into a powerhouse as hoped. In particular, the document says that these shipyards should be used to build new Russian aircraft carriers. This would be a tremendous (and likely unachievable) feat for a country and shipbuilding industry that has struggled to maintain and repair its only remaining aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov.
Even as the performance of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea over the course of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine has seen mixed success, Moscow appears undeterred in setting aggressive targets for its navy. While it is too early to predict whether or to what degree the goals included within Russia’s 2022 naval doctrine will be fulfilled, the United States can expect increased confrontation with Russia on the high seas for the foreseeable future.
Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill as well as in the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.